Wednesday, October 6, 2010

W.H. Harrison Indiana Bourbon Honors War Hero, Governor, and President With Empty Hype.

Here we go again.

Another Potemkin Craft Distillery has appeared with the usual load of misleading or flat-out-false claims.

This one is called W. H. Harrison Indiana Straight Bourbon Whiskey, from a new company called Tipton Spirits. The whiskey debuted about two weeks ago. They have a fancy new web site, Facebook page, etc.

What they don't have, so far as I can tell, is a distillery. They don't claim to, but look at the web site and the rest and see if it doesn't seem like they want to give you the impression they're a little distillery tucked away in some corner of rural Indiana.

The actual maker is probably Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana (LDI), a bulk producer in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, near Cincinnati. LDI is the source (usually undisclosed) of whiskeys sold by High West, Templeton and other Potemkins.

LDI was owned and operated by Seagram's for about 70 years. The plant made whiskey and other spirits for various Seagram's brands. Pernod got it in 2001 when Seagram's was broken up. Angostura, the present owner, bought it in 2007. They strictly sell in bulk and are just about the only spot market source for aged whiskey these days. They are surely the only one in Indiana.

So by all appearances, Tipton is just a marketing company. They bought existing bulk whiskey from a bulk whiskey producer, invented a name, designed a package and contracted with someone to bottle it for them. There is nothing wrong with that, but they are working overtime to create buzz about a 'new' and seemingly 'special' whiskey that is really nothing special at all. It is an 80 proof bourbon that is less than four years old and priced at around $30. Jim Beam, an 80 proof bourbon that is more than four years old goes for less than $20, and there are some lesser known fully-aged Kentucky bourbons that sell for $10-$12.

I admire the chutzpah, but you deserve to know what's really going on here. Potemkins depend on people not looking past the pretty facades.

Their big claim is that Harrison bourbon is "the first Indiana Bourbon since Prohibition." Not so. There were four distilleries making bourbon just in the Greendale/Lawrenceburg area right after Prohibition ended. One closed not long after it opened. Two more were merged by Schenley to make the company's popular Old Quaker bourbon. They made Indiana bourbon until the late 1980s.

The fourth, previously known as Rossville Union, was acquired near the end of Prohibition by Canada's Joseph E. Seagram & Sons, which expanded it into one of the largest distilleries in the U.S. Eventually they shifted a large part of their production to neutral spirits, primarily used for Seagram's Gin, but they also kept and operated a small whiskey distillery. That's today's LDI. They have made an ocean of bourbon over the years.

There was also the Park and Tilford Distillery in Tell City, Indiana. It operated from the end of Prohibition until the late 1960s. The distillers there were members of the Beam family. They made lots of Indiana bourbon too.

But no one called it 'Indiana Straight Bourbon Whiskey." If what Tipton means is that Harrison is the first bourbon made in Indiana since Prohibition to admit it, then that may be true. From the 30s through the 60s, bourbon was made in many states other than Kentucky, not just Indiana but also Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Missouri, and probably a few others. The Kentucky producers did a good job of convincing people that Kentucky bourbon was superior and when the industry contracted in the 70s and 80s, most (though not all) of the non-Kentucky producers shut down.

Harrison also brags about its Indiana corn. That's for real  Most of the corn in Kentucky bourbon is from Indiana too and LDI is unique in being the only American whiskey distillery that owns its own grain wholesaler, in Rushville, Indiana. That's LDI, though, not Tipton/Harrison.

Less credible is their claim that "much of the oak used to make bourbon barrels is actually grown in Indiana." They made that up. Neither ISC nor Brown-Forman sources any significant amount of timber from Indiana and they represent about 99% of all whiskey barrels made in the USA, so no, this whiskey was not aged in Indiana oak.

There is both a Harrison Bourbon web site and a Tipton Spirits web site but neither one tells you very much. The Tipton site says the company is made up of people who used to work for the big liquor companies but it doesn't name a single name or even give an address of where the company is located.

As they say in Texas, all hat, no cattle.

It would be neat if a company like this took the opportunity to brag on LDI, the actual producer. Or found something else that is actually true to brag about. I worked in marketing and advertising for many years and always believed the objective was to tell the truth about the product in the most flattering way possible. But that's hard work. It's easier to just make stuff up.


sku said...

As you note, it would be great if they bragged about LDI. In fact, that would probably be a big selling point among Bourbon fans since I'm not aware of any other LDI straight Bourbon available in the US, and I've often wondered what LDI Bourbon tastes like. As far as I can see, most of it goes into export brands (like Cougar) or maybe blends.

Wade said...

Chuck - I love you! .....or at least your posts when you call out BS as BS.

whiskeyminis said...

Thanks for revealing this scam.

Somehow i missed your blog about the potemkin craft distilleries in februari.

I like the whole micro-distilling thing and was keen on getting bottles from them small companies.Although some are almost unailable to me. The work and dedication some put into their work to create some fine whiskies have my highest regards.

This list of the ADI is the only reliable source i reckon.

Robert Simonson, "Our Man in the Liquor-Soaked Trenches"-New York Times. said...

Thanks for keeping the whiskey industry honest, Chuck. I love these sort of posts.

Indiana Health Insurance said...

Folks in Indiana take that type of thing seriously! And for the record, Indiana has some of the healthiest people around. Maybe a direct correlation?

AlcoholReviews said...


You are a champ at calling "Hokum!" on those in the whiskey industry who peddle nonsense.

This column is exactly why I recommended your website and book in my little book.

Thank you!

Unknown said...

I have to say, that after reading this, I am disappointed. No with the article or with you Chuck. I am simply disappointed to find out this distillery might not even exist. I live in Indiana and I was truly excited to see it. It is package nicely, the website looked nice, and to be honest there was a little state pride coming through when I saw Indiana Bourbon on the label. I come from a long line of Indiana Farmers as well and I could appreciate/was excited to see them acknowledge the great corn, limestone, and spirit making history that comes from Indiana. However, we are good hard working Hoosiers who believe in "Say what you mean, and mean what you say..." and don't give people the run around. So I don't see what is wrong with claiming it is from LDI. It still could be called an Indiana Bourbon. Like you said I would prefer honestly over tall tales. I went to their facebook page and thought this was an interesting question and response:

Amy Crook: Where is your distillery? Would love to make the trip!
October 11 at 9:46pm

Harrison Bourbon Harrison is distilled in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, but the distillery is not open for public tours. We are considering the idea for the future, so stay tuned....
October 12 at 7:44am ·

Chuck Cowdery said...

You hit on the key point here, Andrew, which is disappointment. When consumers learn the truth about brands like this -- and they inevitably do -- they are disappointed. Disappointing your customers is never good business.

Rick M said...

I bought a bottle before I discovered that the label was mostly BS. $26 in Valparaiso, steep for 80 proof less than 4 yo.

I was interested because I had never tasted bourbon from Indiana.

It is ok (sorry, not much at reviewing bourbon). Sweet and simple taste, I like it better than say the base offering from Jim Beam at around $11.

Harrison is definitely not worth $26. Will not buy again. I wish they were straight with their customers.

jesse lee said...

Regardless of where the distillery is or its exact age or finer points of detail you seemed concerned with, the finer points of actual tastings would obviously show it tastes nothing like Jim Beam.

Unknown said...

I saw the table add at our local microbrew tonight here in Evansville, IN; and as a love of good bourbon, rushed out and bought a bottle. Wow, was I disappointed. I noticed when I got home the "aged less the 3 years" note on the bottle. I didn't think you could call it bourbon if it wasn't 4 yrs old. Anyways, it is smooth, but has little flavor. It might appeal to drinkers of Gentleman's Jack, or other bourbons with little flavor; but I won't be buying it again.

Anonymous said...

You can still call it bourbon if it's aged less than 4 years, but you have to say so on the bottle. These young "premium" whiskies in fancy bottles by fictional distilleries are springing up all over.

md said...

If you put white dog >=160 proof, the majority of which (51%) is from corn, in a new charred-oak barrel and take it out of said barrel at 80 proof or above, it is bourbon. Doesn't matter where, and doesn't matter how long. You could "age" it for 30 seconds if you wanted (which would be incredibly stupid, because that barrel, which cost a lot of money, can never again be used to age bourbon). In order to be STRAIGHT bourbon, it must be in the barrel for 2 years, or obviously longer.